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What is worse than disrespectful?

Calling Out/In Disrespect

In the respect–disrespect–violence continuum, disrespect is a precursor to violence. At Princeton, we have a choice to tolerate disrespectful behavior or put a stop to it before it turns into violence like sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking.

In the absence of respect, people hurt other people emotionally and physically. Although disrespectful behavior can be directed at one person by another, it is rarely a «personal issue». Often there are systems in play that tolerate disrespect and discourage people from taking action to intervene.

When disrespectful behavior goes unchecked, like a virus, it spreads to more and more of our community members and becomes a broader cultural issue.

Read more to learn about the many forms of disrespect and how to create respect.

  • What does disrespect look like?
  • Calling out and calling in
  • Tips for calling in

What does disrespect look like?

  • Using words that degrade, demean, or objectify
  • Making statements that attack a person based on one or more social identity (e.g., race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, country of origin, ability)
  • Writing and endorsing offensive comments posted in social media
  • Turning away when someone is asking for or needs help
  • Deciding not to enforce policies meant to protect our community from harm
  • Operating in a way that consistently ignores a group of people or minimizes their collective experiences
  • Choosing to destroy another person’s property

If someone does or says something that you think is disrespectful (even if you aren’t 100% sure) it’s important to be open about your disapproval. If no one says anything, even if the majority disagree with what has been said or done, a message is sent that this kind of behavior is acceptable in the community.

“Calling In,” Not Just Calling Out

One way to show disapproval is to call out the disrespectful behavior — saying:

  • “That’s not ok.”
  • “I’m not comfortable with that.”
  • “I don’t think that was funny.”

These are all good responses that make it clear you disagree with the disrespect and won’t allow it to continue. If a situation is escalating, calling out the behavior may be the only way to stop it before someone gets hurt. Often, though, the calling out intervention ends there; someone is disrespectful, you tell them so, and everyone leaves the situation disgruntled. While that’s better than saying nothing, it can also end the dialogue earlier than necessary. What’s more, interactions like this can be especially hard to have with people we care about, like parents, friends, classmates, teammates, or colleagues. Instead of only calling people out, we can go a step further and call them in to a conversation.

Tips for “Calling In”

“Calling in” is about recognizing disrespect, naming it as such, and starting an open discussion about how the behavior doesn’t align with your values or theirs. What makes a good calling-in conversation? Here are some simple tips:

  • Choose whether to engage. Ask yourself:
    • Do I want to be in community with them?
    • Do I value their relationship?
    • Do I believe they intended no harm?

    Calling in isn’t a replacement for calling out — it’s another strategy for responding to disrespect. By calling in, we can show people the impact of their words and actions, empowering them to make more informed choices. Calling in allows people to reflect, rethink, and grow from the conversation, rather than becoming defensive or shutting down. Once we’re on the same page, we can create new allies, expand our perspectives, and move together towards respect and inclusion.

    If you are working to improve your calling out/in disrespect skills to support people who identify as gender diverse, check out this resource, as well as this one. If you prefer to do this work over social media, consider following trans identified people to uplift their voices and influence.

    When you encounter disrespect, weigh your options; if you have the opportunity and the energy, try calling someone into the conversation.

    Explore Further

    Calling out/in disrespect is only one part of fostering respect; for more, check out Creating a Respectful Community.

    Looking for a framework to ground your calling in/out disrespect interventions? Consider exploring this resource on allyship for anti-oppression.

    Why People Are Rude and Unkind (and Why It’s Not About You)

    By nature, I am a happy, optimistic, idealistic person. I have always been one to look on the bright side and see the good in people. My usual philosophy in life is that the world is full of brightness, love, and possibilities to seize.

    Recently, though, my philosophy began to fade in the face of a mild depression.

    I began to cry a lot and retreat into myself rather than being social and opening up, which only furthered the problem. I felt alone, miserable, and, try as I might, I could not regain that feeling of the world being beautiful.

    I felt like something had crawled into my brain and flipped all the positive switches off and the negative ones on. I felt hopeless, like it was more of a disease than a feeling.

    Before the depression, I was a kind, gentle, and compassionate person. Sometimes I was even too gentle, afraid to bring up anything that might offend someone else or damage our relationship.

    I didn’t understand how other people could be mean, rude, or offensive toward strangers or friends. I took it personally when people affronted me or were curt with me, believing they were truly out to get me for something I’d done.

    When people were mean, I figured it was a personal choice, that it was a conscious decision to stop caring about other people’s feelings and opinions.

    When I became depressed, though, my temper shortened and I felt far more irritable.

    I had little patience for anything, and I lived in a constant state of anxiety about social interactions. Whenever I engaged in conversation with someone else, I assumed they found me boring, annoying, or self-obsessed, and it sent me even further into my sadness.

    I started to become rude and unkind myself. I lashed out at people, or, more commonly, gave them passive aggressive excuses for distancing myself from them.

    I even became prone to insulting people as a way of protecting myself if they didn’t like me.

    I didn’t make a conscious decision to be mean. I didn’t wake up in the morning and think, “Today, I am going to hurt someone’s feelings.” It just happened in the moment when I was feeling especially down on myself.

    Most of the people I was rude to were actually friends of mine, people I liked and had nothing against.

    This is no excuse for rudeness, offensive behavior, or being unkind to other individuals. I am not proud of the way I’ve acted, and I’m not suggesting you follow in my footsteps, but it did give me a new perspective on other people I come across who are less than kind.

    When someone is rude for no reason, especially a stranger, it’s rarely a personal assault, even if you accidentally did something to irritate them.

    People aren’t mean for the sport of it, or because they are against you; people are mean to cope.

    Being unkind, more often than not, is a reaction to anger with ourselves or our perceived inadequacy. When I was rude to other people, it was because I was afraid they wouldn’t like the nice me. I didn’t mind if they were angry at the fake, unkind me, because it really wasn’t me.

    I felt unlovable, undesirable, and antisocial, and I needed a way to cope with these feelings by giving myself an alter ego that deserved to be disliked for reasons I could understand.

    When you find that people are being rude to you in your everyday life, they are really being mean to themselves.

    They have likely convinced themselves that they are unworthy of love, and that is the biggest tragedy of all.

    You don’t have to tolerate it when others are not nice, but it’s not something to take personally.

    You don’t have to internalize the meanness as a fault of your own. You can simply recognize that the person being rude is struggling with their own problems, and needs a way to cope with them.

    You cannot control the actions and behaviors of others, only your personal reactions to them.

    If you yourself are the one who has been unkind, it is time for self-reflection. Why do you attack people? What are you trying to protect yourself from?

    In my case, I got depressed because I felt socially awkward and I began losing friends. After that, I shied away from social gatherings, only augmenting the problem.

    I constantly thought negative things, such as “Nobody likes you,” “Who would want to be your friend?” and “You are not worthy of the friends you have.” I created a toxic environment inside my own head, and it wasn’t based in reality.

    I knew I had to change my outlook, so I pushed myself to see the good in myself and the reasons why I’m likable; as a result, I began to see the good in others again too.

    It’s not an easy process, and for many, it requires therapy and months of time. However, you can begin your journey back to kindness by being kinder to yourself.

    Listen closely to your destructive, self-critical thoughts. Are they based in reality, or are you fabricating them?

    If you criticize yourself because you feel guilty about things you did in the past, work on nurturing self-forgiveness, just as you’d forgive a loved one for those same mistakes.

    If you criticize yourself because you were raised to believe you were a bad person, recognize this isn’t true, and know that you can choose to heal and challenge this belief as an adult.

    Try to look at yourself from an outside perspective and remind yourself of all the unique and beautiful qualities you possess and have the ability to share with the world.

    With enough time and effort, you will begin to see the pattern in your unkind behavior and its link to your own anger at yourself.

    Once you can hone in on your feelings about yourself, you can begin to make conscious decisions to be kind to others instead of lashing out as a coping mechanism.

    I have always unfalteringly held the belief that people are inherently good, and only do bad things in reaction to bad situations.

    The most important thing to remember, whether you are receiving or giving unkindness, is that you are inherently good, too, and deserve to be loved, no matter what you or someone else tells you.

    About Avery Rogers

    Avery Rogers is a high school student in California. She aspires to be an author, spiritual writer, and neuroscientist when she grows up. She is the creator and host of the Brainstorms Podcast, a neuroscience podcast for teenagers. She also runs a personal blog about love, spirituality, and the meaning of life at on her blog Pluto’s Journal.

    What is worse than disrespectful?

    Great Britain flag icon

      • Great Britain

    What is religion or belief discrimination?

    This is when you are treated differently because of your religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief, in one of the situations covered by the Equality Act.

    The treatment could be a one-off action or as a result of a rule or policy. It does not have to be intentional to be unlawful.

    There are some circumstances when being treated differently due to religion or belief is lawful, explained below.

    What the Equality Act says about religion or belief discrimination

    The Equality Act 2010 says you must not be discriminated against because:

    • you are (or are not) of a particular religion
    • you hold (or do not hold) a particular philosophical belief
    • someone thinks you are of a particular religion or hold a particular belief (this is known as discrimination by perception)
    • you are connected to someone who has a religion or belief (this is known as discrimination by association)

    In the Equality Act religion or belief can mean any religion, for example an organised religion like Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism, or a smaller religion like Rastafarianism or Paganism, as long as it has a clear structure and belief system.

    The Equality Act also covers non-belief or a lack of religion or belief. For example:

    • the Equality Act protects Christians if they are discriminated against because of their Christian beliefs, it also protects people of other religions and those with no religion if they are discriminated against because of their beliefs

    What qualifies as a philosophical belief?

    The Equality Act says that a philosophical belief must be genuinely held and more than an opinion. It must be cogent, serious and apply to an important aspect of human life or behaviour. For example:

    • an employee believes strongly in man-made climate change and feels that they have a duty to live their life in a way which limits their impact on the earth to help save it for future generations: this would be classed as a belief and protected under the Equality Act

    The Equality Act also says that a belief must also be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not affect other people’s fundamental rights. For example:

    • an employee believes that white people are a superior race to others and tells their colleagues so: this would not be classed as a belief protected under the Equality Act

    Different types of religion or belief discrimination

    There are four main types of religion or belief discrimination.

    Direct discrimination

    This happens when someone treats you worse than another person in a similar situation because of your religion or belief. For example:

    • a bank refuses you a loan because you’re Jewish

    Discrimination can occur even where both the discriminator and the person being discriminated against hold the same religious or philosophical belief. For example:

    • a Hindu businessman interviews two women for a job as his personal assistant. One is Hindu and the other is not religious. The Hindu woman is the best candidate at interview but he gives the job to the other woman because he thinks his clients (who are mainly Christian or have no religion or belief) will prefer it. This is direct discrimination because of religion or belief

    Indirect discrimination

    Indirect discrimination happens when an organisation has a particular policy or way of working that applies to everyone but which puts you at a disadvantage because of your religion or belief. For example:

    • you are Jewish and you finish early on Fridays in order to observe the Sabbath. Your manager has changed the weekly team meetings from Wednesday afternoons to Friday afternoons and you are therefore often absent

    Indirect religion or belief discrimination can be permitted but the organisation or employer must be able to show that the policy or way of working is necessary for the way the business operates. This is known as objective justification.

    Can I object to a workplace dress code or uniform policy that is against my religion?

    Everyone has a human right to manifest their religion or belief under the European Convention on Human Rights. That means you have the right to wear particular articles of clothing or symbols to show that you have a particular religion or belief at your workplace, even if other people of your religion don’t. For example:

    • some people wear a crucifix to show they are Christians, but not all Christians do

    However because that human right is a qualified right an employer can prevent you from wearing particular articles of clothing or symbols if it is necessary for the role you are doing. For example:

    • a teacher is asked to stop wearing a floor length garment because it is a trip hazard. If this is necessary to protect health and safety in the workplace and there is no practical alternative, this may be justified
    • a Sikh man works in food preparation. His employer has a policy that no headgear can be worn and staff must use hair nets. This would not be justified if there was a practical alternative that met the business’s health and safety requirements, such as wearing a new or freshly washed turban for each shift


    Harassment in the workplace occurs when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.

    Harassment can never be justified. However, if an organisation or employer can show it did everything it could to prevent people who work for it from behaving like that, you will not be able to make a claim for harassment against it, although you could make a claim against the harasser.

    The rules about Harassment don’t apply outside the workplace. However, if you are harassed or receive offensive treatment because of religion or belief outside the workplace this may be direct discrimination. For example:

    • a Muslim man visits his local takeaway regularly. Every time he goes in, one of the staff makes comments about him being a terrorist. He finds this offensive and upsetting


    This is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint of religion or belief related discrimination under the Equality Act. It can also occur if you are supporting someone who has made a complaint of religion or belief related discrimination. For example:

    • a woman at work has been harassed by a supervisor because she wears a hijab. Her co-worker saw this happen and is supporting her harassment claim. The co-worker is threatened with the sack. This would be victimisation because the co-worker is supporting her colleague’s claim of harassment
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